III. Theological Message
Judges concerns itself with the most momentous issue faced by early Israel: the nature of the community. Is Israel to continue as a confederation of tribes led by charismatic leaders, or should the nation take the bold step toward national statehood and kingship? Readers of the eighth century b.c. also debated whether the southern monarchy of a single (Davidic) dynasty was superior to the charismatic approach to kingship taken in the northern kingdom. Was the northern way closer to Israel's ancient ideal and more faithful to the covenant?
The author answers the question by exploring Israel's spiritual fortunes during the period of the tribal confederacy, analyzing Israel's evil, and examining two solutions. The book clearly views the time of the tribal confederacy as spiritually disastrous. In pushing beyond apostasy to national self-will, the analysis of Israel's evil in Judges undergirds that offered in the NT, which probes beneath acts of sin to the underlying self-will. Likewise, the NT depicts sin's consequences objectively as bondage to oppressive principalities and powers beyond the person, and subjectively as living “in the flesh,” emphasizing the self-destructive propensity of self-will. Judges portrays a communal embodiment of the spiritual impotence of life in the flesh described in Ro 7, where “I,” “me,” and “my” appear more than thirty-five times. Wesleyan theology understands sin as imprisonment in self-will, broken only by the sanctifying grace of Christlikeness. In depicting how self-will ravages the community of faith, Judges portrays that carnality that threatens the full realization of the Gospel.
Judges and the NT also concur in the solution to self-will. In 3:7-16:31 Spirit-driven charismatics appear increasingly impotent to save Israel. Occasional onrushes of the Spirit cannot stop the downward spiral and actually accelerate it. Israel's deep madness cannot be dislodged by a tour de force of the Spirit. In contrast to charismatic leadership, chs. 17-21 offer an alternative: kingship. Israel needs a king who will confront Israel's idolatry, self-will, and penchant for self-destruction. The king must save Israel from its most lethal foe: itself. Judges proclaims the primacy of the spiritual dimensions of kingship—messiahship—in Israel. The OT persistently links kingship to national spiritual fidelity. In a similar vein, the NT never discusses the Holy Spirit apart from the kingly rule of Christ and his summons to deny self. John Wesley developed his theology of the sanctified life primarily as a life of Christlike purity, not power in the Spirit. Holiness advocates after Wesley rightly related sanctification to the Spirit but emphasized the Spirit's power specifically as power over the inward tendencies to sin. Following the author of Judges, Wesleyan theology recognizes the primacy of character over charisma, purity over power.